HR works like HEART functions for human body

She is an entrepreneur, a motivational speaker, a corporate trainer, a philanthropist and an energy healer. She Archna Khurana Sharma, the Founder and Director of a Business Consulting company, HR = Human Rhythms.  Archna is an IIM Ahmedabad alumni and Post Graduate from Symbiosis, Pune. In her career of over 16 years, Archna has worked across the wide spectrum of HR, specifically, OD, Leadership Development, Performance Management Systems and creating Systems and structures for Organizations of varied size and numbers. Archna is one of the top 100 HR Social Media Influencers since last 3 years and has been named as “Power women of change” by people Matters Magazine in 2016. Thank you, Archna, for agreeing to do this interview with us. We value your time. Let's start. 

We would be pleased to learn about your journey from the beginning. So, please share with us about your first job interview. 

First job and first interview are always very special as they give learning and exposure that is very new for everyone. First job interview, as a naive I wandered through the corridor inhaling the newness of which might be my first workplace. I was directed to a large conference room where 3 people, who looked like coming straight from suiting advertisement, were seated at one corner of the table.

I was asked to take my seat, which I took with confidence, though my feet were still trembling with nervousness. After the initial introduction and many questions, I actually loved replying to this one

Interviewer – So why should we select you?

Me - Unless you won’t select me for this role, you would not know how I faired working on this particular position and role. The rejection today will be a loss for me but it will be for the organization also as they would never know how a particular Archna worked.

Which, according to you was the most intriguing interview? Can you share your experience in detail? 

I was intrigued by the ambiance at first glance the moment I entered the office, a complete Green Building concept, a very new concept at that time. A good impression is made starting from the way Security Guards treat a prospective employee.

The interview was for a Leadership position. Hence, I was interviewed by MD and CFO of the company. This was the final round of interview having cleared the first round with CFO. One question they asked in this round I clearly remember was, “what are the failures you had in the last job?”

To be honest, I wasn’t prepared completely to answer that question and whatever I said was a true story of instances where my initiatives failed in previous organisation and what I learned from those experiences and how I took complete responsibility for those failures even when there were many people involved but as a Functional Head, if things didn’t work out, how it was planned had something to do with the planning and execution process we followed.

MD got really impressed with my honest response and I was hired for the Job to lead a team of 34 people.

The first job is a major milestone for many people. Let’s discuss your first year at the job. How was your experience? What were your expectations for your job and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectation? 

It’s an amazing moment, a moment of proud to be able to earn your own money – first job is so exciting. Increase in self-confidence, budgeting, a better understanding of the world and the exciting journey to future success in the professional world.

Gaps were there as no one actually prepares you for the ‘Life Skills” in the college, hence you have to find that path yourself.

And the good part was there was no expectation when you reached the office on the very first day, I took everything as it came. Everyone behaved cordially and took us to the Training room, Induction process was surely very boring, long as compared to what we design now and we trainees were chatting more than paying attention to what was being told (I guess that was the effect of college life).

In many ways, the first job helped me shape my personality, taught me the value of hard work, the vitality of being committed to your timelines and how to focus on Goals.

HR works like HEART functions for human body

According to you, do you think workplace mentors and coaches play an important role in settling fresh graduates in their first job? How was your experience? 

Workplace mentors can actually build so much confidence in us, thankfully my first ever boss was my Mentor as well.

Starting from the technical knowledge in guiding me on how our behavior can make an impact in the HR world – learning from him was a powerful source of information and knowledge. His ability to bring humour into day to day life made us believe that bosses can really be a good mentor.

He promoted a concept of continuous learning and was inclined towards personal development of individuals hence, approved many MDPs, training programs for all of us.

His one statement that “HR works like HEART functions for human body” remained with me and now as I run my consulting firm the name itself somewhere comes from the same belief HR=Human Rhythms.

He is no more in the world now but the learning he gave us is going to be with me and many others for the lifetime.

The use of Artificial Intelligence and data is a fantastic way of quick decision making and finding better solutions.

You are an HR Practitioner for so many years. Could you please tell us why did you choose this profession? If not in HR, what another profession you would have chosen for yourself?

A career in HR was the only thing I thought of since I got to know I can’t study physics which was required to be a doctor. The concept of HR was introduced to me by my Father and I literally followed in his footsteps.

Having worked in a leadership role, what do you think are the expectations of a CEO or the Management Team from its HR Function in general and HR Head in particular?

Having worked with various industries and set up, both family-run businesses and MNCs – The expectation of CEOs differ. In an MNC they would require you to take care of complete talent management while being Business Partner and bring in strategies that make employees happy, retain them for long period of time and improve the wellness of the organization.

While in family-run business and SMEs, the focus may be more on understanding business along with cost-cutting, focusing more on higher productivity with and humane solutions to people’s problem.

In the same breath, can you also highlight about expectations of employees from the HR Function of an Organization?

Employees in many organizations still feel that HR works more for Owners/CEOs which has to change. A recent survey on employee happiness quotient depicts that employees are not happy where they are – but organizations need them as much as people need companies to make a successful career.

So, what can be done – that remedy should come from HR people, the use of Artificial Intelligence and data is a fantastic way of quick decision making and finding better solutions, also, it gives more time to HR professional to work on relationships, creating a culture of trust, empathy, wellness and mindfulness now even more than earlier with increasing stress in employees.

Every member of the Leadership Team of an Organization has a responsibility of creating a work environment that enables people to thrive and perform.

According to you, what are the key challenges of being a representative of employees as well as a representative of company management? What kind of conflicts you have faced and how did you manage to overcome them. 

According to me, every Functional Head is representative of the Company Management, not just HR, though Yes, HR is still seen as a common representative of employees and management.

Every member of Leadership management has the responsibility of creating a work environment that enables people to thrive.

One such incident happened during the time when we (HR) were asked to terminate an employee basis her non-performance and negative attitude, even after giving many chances and a well-crafted Performance Improvement Plan, however, her performance, absenteeism, and behavior didn’t improve, she blamed HR Department for being merciless.

The conflict continued as she refused to accept termination and challenged the Organisation’s decision in court. As the matter was in my hand, I made her go through each email that her reporting manager and HR wrote to her about her low performance, we showed her attendance authenticated data from Biometrics, counselled her on her behavior and its outcome on her career. The process was long but she understood that the role she was in and her interest didn’t match. Organisation decided to give her another role on mutually decided conditions that the organization would do Weekly reviews initially for a period of 3 months and any unaccepted behavior would not be tolerated.

She worked in the organization for another 6 years even after I left that company and we are good friends now.

Please share an experience when you did something by coming under pressure from your management or reporting manager though you felt it was wrong and shouldn’t have been done?

Fortunately, I never got a chance. Being a firm believer of ‘putting my foot down’ against anything that is going wrong or I feel as wrong practice. Yes, I left the organization amicably when I felt there was no mutually accepted way of working ahead.

Based on your experience, what are the FIVE essential traits every HR Professional must have?

First – Emotional quotient

Second – Good Communication and persuasiveness (not necessary English Language) but to be able to put your point across is vital for the role.

Third – Technologically, technically updated and trained

Fourth – Problem Solving

Fifth – Self Discipline is an important trait to be able to drive the HR department dedicatedly and by being a role model.

“Untrained People” in HR is a big challenge

HR is at the crossroads, yet again. According to you, what will be the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robots, etc. on the future of HR Function? Please also highlight how social media has changed the world of HR practitioners? 

Every change is for the betterment, though to a large extent it depends upon an Organisation and people to seek its benefits. One challenge I feel rampant is “Untrained People” in HR especially now when AI and Robots are ready to take on repetitive jobs it can be a huge roadblock – the only solution is by being adaptable and ready to learn.

A large organization has the facility and funds to hire people who are already trained but numerous SMEs, family run business are still not introduced to AI and cannot hire technically trained people.

The use of Data and AI is no more just talks or gimmicks it is for REAL and as soon as we adapt to it more beneficial for us to thrive and it will make job much interesting for HR Professionals and will give them more time to focus on building “Soft Skills”, relationships and mindfulness for employees.

Social Media brought disruptive innovation in the workplace – hiring through social networks, Opinions available on Glassdoor, Millennial joining workforce much learned in advance technology, internal chat tools to speed up the communication, Jargons like collaborative leadership, flat structures, open offices are all linked to the word Social.

For HR it has become easy yet with complexities if they aren’t trained to handle what Social media use brings with it, for example – Higher responsibility that the company culture is open and trustworthy, no false promises in interviews, no false selling the organisation, creating an Employer Brand, etc., as the more real discussions, will happen with real people, socially the major impact it will create on all stakeholders.

TWO pre-requisites for a good career in HR - Be adaptive to change and be empathetic.

Last question, what is your message for young and aspiring HR practitioners? What kind of growth opportunities should they look forward to? Why should anyone join this profession? And, what are the key competencies one must have to be successful in this profession?    

 Don’t restrict knowledge to books, open up your mind to accept and learn from people who come from Industries to give lectures.

HR is much beyond a desk job, much more than selling a product or service as your selling your organization to prospective candidates while hiring, you are the representative of organisation’s impression, here you are dealing with complex and different minds every day, get trained and updated about new technologies. Look for a Mentor – Ask questions.

Updating self about companies and practices is essential for students to be job ready.

These days new opportunities are available with HR Function, one can specifically get into just recruitment/hiring or employee relationship, HRIS role, etc. as a specialization or one can focus on Generalist role to get into small medium enterprises and for start-ups get ready to take on with multiple responsibilities initially.

Be adaptive to change and empathetic, along with knowledge and skills are two pre-requisites for a good career in HR.

Thank you very much, yet again, for sharing wonderful insight. We appreciate it. 

*This interview was originally published on [Date: 7th November 2018]

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